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Stockton Liberal Democrats

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Votes at 16, repeating our long term pledge on this

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Stockton Lib Dem vice chair speaks out on votes at 16.

I note with interest Ed Miliband's call for the voting age to be lowered to 16 in a keynote speech to the Labour party Conference. Indeed giving the votes to 16 year olds has been Liberal Democrat party policy for some years now and so I welcome the fact that Labour is catching up.

When one looks at the bigger picture, moreover, one sees that there is a growing consensus across the political spectrum in favour of change. With Labour and Liberal Democrat support for votes at 16 in UK elections seemingly already assured, 16/17 year olds will be allowed to vote in next year's referendum on Scottish independence and the Green party have also expressed their support for introducing the vote for 16 year olds.

The Liberal Democrat view is that extending the franchise will be beneficial to the country because it will do much to engage young people in political process, it will revitalise and renew Britain's democracy and it will make politics fairer. Lowering the voting age to 16 will give young people a say in decisions which affect them and will make sure that politicians take seriously issues which matter to them. When one considers that the right to vote is a fundamental human right, it is unacceptable to deny the right to vote to those who are already legally old enough to join the armed forces, consent to sexual relations, get married, become a company director, work and pay income tax and national insurance. The same 16 and 17 year olds who the law deems mature and responsible enough to do all of these things are surely also mature and responsible enough to be given the right to vote?

As the only major party not to endorse lowering the voting age, I urge the Conservatives to reconsider their position. Their apparent determination to exclude 16 and 17 year olds from the democratic process could be seen as patronising and as failing to show them the respect they deserve.

In a society where Politics is not taught in schools, only as an optional A-Level and where voter apathy is a long standing problem, lowering the voting age to 16 will do much to engage young people in politics and will increase participation in the political process. I very much hope that in the not too distant future one government or another will seize the opportunity to make votes at 16 a reality for the sake of British democracy.